The latest new photo discovery of 2017 is a long missing image of President John Quincy Adams. It is the oldest known U.S. Presidential photo.
The eldest son of John and Abigail Adams was born in 1767. He went on his first diplomatic mission when just 10 years of age. He was secretary to his father, John Adams during the Peace of Paris. Adams attended school in France and Holland. He graduated from Harvard College in 1787. After college he apprenticed to become a lawyer. Elected President in 1825, he was in office for one term.
More than half a dozen daguerreotypes from 1843 exist of this reclusive man.
The one (above) at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. cost 50 cents in 1970. It sat undiscovered at an antique shop. Adams thought it a horrid likeness.
The Last Muster (volume 2): Faces of the American Revolution, includes a portrait of Adams. It is from the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. An edited version of it appears in the Wikipedia entry for the President. It is very similar to the newly discovered daguerreotype.
The Metropolitan daguerreotype is not an original. It is actually a copy of an original daguerreotype by Southworth and Hawes of Boston. The whereabouts of that daguerreotype are unknown.
On March 8, 1843, Adams visited the Washington, DC studio of Philip Haas to sit for three daguerreotypes. For those curious about how long it took to sit for one of these, Adams reported it took half a minute. He gave one of these images to his friend Horace Everett, a congressman from Vermont.
The New York Times article shows both sides of the daguerreotype. On the back is a note, “Presented by J.Q.A to his Kinsman H.E. 1843.” A descendant of Everett’s found the image in his parent’s belongings. He didn’t recognize Adams until he did some research.
So…now Sotheby’s is auctioning the newly found image. It’s likely to fetch in the hundreds of thousands.
This type of serendipitous discovery sends ripples through the photo history community. If this image could reappear, then what other “lost” pictures are discover-able. Sprinkled throughout my Last Muster series are images that currently exist only in engravings or copies. It’s possible that some of these images are in family collections passed down without recognition from one generation to the next. My only hope is that a descendant in an attempt to clean out their clutter didn’t discard the originals.
The next great photo discovery might be in your own photo album or shoebox. Think before you toss and make sure that a piece of history isn’t going out with the trash. It happens more often than you’d think.